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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Rhode Island and Identity Theft

Protect Yourself and Your Family
President Barack Obama acknowledged at a Federal Trade Commission speech on Jan. 12 that identity theft poses a direct threat to the financial security of Americans. He responded by proposing two new pieces of federal legislation: the Student Data Privacy Act and the Personal Data Notification and Protection Act.

The first would outlaw companies from selling students' data, while the latter would mandate all companies notify customers of data breaches within 30 days.


Despite other legislative measures, the prevalence of identity theft has not slowed down. There were 16.6 million cases of identity theft in 2012, according to the Bureau of Justice, but that number skyrocketed to 34.2 million in 2013. Rhode Island is in the middle of the pack as far as identity theft frequency goes: The Ocean State experiences 60.6 complaints per 100,000 residents, the FTC reports. Florida, the worst state for identity theft, has a 192.9 per 100,000 ratio, while North Dakota is the safest state at 32.1.

The enactment of the Identity Theft Prevention Act of 2005 by the Rhode Island legislature has certainly helped, but it is by no means a cure-all. The more information consumers have on the most recent threats, the better they can protect themselves.

Phishing

Criminals pretending to be legitimate companies to extract personal data is now one of the biggest threats to Americans' financial security. The Better Business Bureau said phishing scams were the fourth most common type of identity theft crime in 2012. But that number increased by an astounding 264 percent in 2013, according to Web security firm Cyren.

It's fairly easy to become a victim of phishing scams, because criminals are getting smarter and more sophisticated in their approaches. But a few precautions can minimize your risk. Never click on URLs embedded in an email claiming to be from a legitimate company. Always type the company's URL into your browser manually. A secure website will begin with "https" instead of "http" and will have a lock icon in the status bar. Never open attachments from unknown senders, either.

Business owners and others who complete a lot of online transactions and emailing are the most vulnerable to attack. Use an identity theft prevention service like LifeLock to stay informed on pressing threats and to protect your data.

Tax Fraud & Mail Theft

Two Providence men were sentenced to federal prison in December after pleading guilty to filing fraudulent tax returns. They stole personal data from 1,200 victims and attempted to cash refund checks totaling $1.9 million. Providence businessman Anthony Delfarno was also arrested in December on a 66-count indictment, including three counts of aggravated identity theft and 52 counts of filing false tax returns.

The two most common ways criminals obtain tax information are phishing and direct mail theft. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service discourages using your personal mailbox for outgoing items. Always hand envelopes directly to a postal worker or use a mailbox or the mail slots at your local post office. Never leave mail in your box overnight. If you will not be home on any given night, make arrangements with a neighbor to get your mail.

Common Sense

There's no foolproof way to prevent identity theft, but there are several other precautions you can take to further reduce your risk. Never use public computers to log into bank or credit card accounts. Learn how to safely use free Wi-Fi. Make certain to log out of social media and email accounts on your smartphone when finished using them. Shred all documents containing personal information before discarding them.

Protecting yourself from identity theft is about being proactive and exercising due diligence. Make sure you're doing both to minimize your chance of becoming the next victim.